Movie Review: The Imitation Game

February 24th, 2015

Earlier this month, I got the chance to watch The Imitation Game, a film based on the Alan Turing biography, The Enigma by Andrew Hodges (1983). I thought it would be a great film to see since Im intrigued by computers and how they came to be. Alan Turing has been described by many as the grandfather of the modern computer. He was more than just a quirky inventor, mathematician, and technological visionary. He, himself, was an enigma; a hard-to-figure out person who struggled to make sense of common human interactions. Perhaps thats why this movie was called Imitation Game(1). Not only does the films title reference the famous Turing Test concept (a game of trying to determine whether a person is remotely communicating with a human or a machine), the title may be an allusion to the fact that Turing felt like an outsider and had to learn to imitate the people around him to fit in. Ultimately, Turing couldnt be boxed into conformity. Years after his world-saving achievement, Turing committed suicide after being forced to undergo a barbaric hormone treatment to cure his homosexuality.

The Imitation Game is a fairly good dramatization of the events surrounding the breaking of the German naval Enigma. Although some critics would argue that the movie misrepresented some historical details, it didnt seem to veer too far from reality (2). In fact, I was expecting to see more fabrication and sensationalism surrounding Turings homosexuality. After all, sex sells. Not once did we see Turing touch another man in a romantic way. We do, however, see a sweet but predictable romance blossom from a childhood friendship that ends before it really begins in a flashback to Turings days at boarding school. The boy Turing fell in love with appeared to be his only friend at the time. While the other students bullied Turing for being socially awkward and different, Christopher reaches out to him and the two of them cultivate an interest in cryptology. Years later, Turing affectionately names his code-breaking machine after his long lost friend.

Some people have commented that the film strongly suggests that the Alan Turing character had some kind of autism spectrum disorder(2). Hes portrayed as being extremely clueless about manners. In one intense scene, Joan Clarke proclaims her love for Turing in spite of his lack of romantic feelings for her. He coldly replies that he doesnt care for her at all. This earns him a slap in the face. I can only imagine what Turing was thinking when he said those rejecting words. Did he secretly care for Clarke in return but wanted to protect her from his crimes? Or did he simply see her only as a means to an end (solving the enigma)? I guess I would need to read the book to know.

I appreciated that the movie went into some detail explaining how the Nazi code was broken. The machine that Turing built was designed to rapidly translate intercepted radio messages from the Nazis using a cipher (i.e. letter substitution). We also learn about Turings time-saving strategy of identifying repetitive phrases in the German messages, such as “Heil Hitler.” This was refreshing to see after watching The Theory of Everything earlier in the year. The Theory of Everything, by contrast, is a well-acted but fluffy account of the love story between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane Wilde. There was virtually zero talk of Hawking’s groundbreaking theories in physics. Then again, his subject matter is probably a lot harder to explain to a layperson audience than code breaking. In any case, I enjoyed both movies and would recommend them, especially to science nerds and history buffs.

Looking back at the past few months, Ive noticed that theres been a higher concentration of science-oriented movies in theaters. I cant help but wonder if this is a product of changing times. Theres been a lot of talk lately about self-driving cars becoming available to consumers in the not-so-distant future (3). It seems like reality is becoming more and more like the science fiction we see in movies. Computers are largely responsible for this proliferation of smarter technologies in our daily lives. People like Alan Turing have laid the foundations for such technologies to flourish. If only Turing hadnt eaten that cyanide-infused apple. If only Turing was given justice for his crime before it was too late. I wish he could see what his work has done to change the world today.

References

  1. Hodges, Andrew. The Turing Test, 1950.
    The Alan Turing Internet Scrapbook. 2015.
  2. Anderson, L.V. How Accurate is The Imitation Game?
    The Slate Group, LLC. 3 December 2014.
  3. Dorrier, Jason. In Driverless Cars, Champion Racing Skills Will Come Standard. Singularity Hub. 17 February 2015.

Categories: culture